Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies is a portrait of a seemingly perfect marriage, and the thread that holds it together. Lotto and Matilde are tall, young, and in love. Their marriage is one to be envied, applauded, and talked about.
I have found that in itself, marriage is a doubling. Two sets of bookshelves, two childhoods, two phones, two winter coats, two minds, two hearts, two bodies. There is two of everything – twin sets – sometimes surplus, sometimes necessary. But Fates and Furies made me starkly aware that I will only ever (truly) know one side of each set.
Fates and Furies is split in two, the first half, Fates, is Lotto’s view of their life together as he grows from the golden boy of a wealthy Florida family into a failed actor and finally into a celebrated playwright. Through the work of the Fates, those Greek incarnations of destiny, his mortal life is bound and dictated by fate and fortune. Every success or failure that befalls him was (seemingly) written in the stars. Yet Matilde’s tale, Furies, tells us that this was not so. What Lotto saw as his destiny was actually the work of Matilde, who, like many wives in history, works ruthlessly behind the scenes designing and plotting the course of both their lives.
It is a trope often observed: that two people, living side by side, hardly know one another. Yet Lauren Groff takes this idea and flips it, as neither spouse leads a secret life: there is no affair, or infatuation, or obsession. Yet, while there are no lies, there are truths left untold.
A practice of unreliable narration, Fates and Furies is a novel that makes you comfortable, and then pulls the chair out from under you. In the first hours and days I spent with the book, like everyone else in Lotto’s life, I was charmed by the gangly, handsome playwright. With an abundance of metaphors and short sharp sentences that drive the plot, Groff coaxed me into a sense of objectivity. Despite his naivety and questionable motives, I wanted him to succeed. I wanted him to be happy. And I thought he deserved the love of Matilde.
But at half way, Groff gave me Matilde’s perspective. Matilde’s tale is the gritty reality behind the velvet curtains of Lotto’s life: what he arrogantly assumed was virginal blood was actually menstrual, and what he saw as his writing genius was the fruit of her endless insomniatic editing. Every moment of his life had a facet that he didn’t (and until the second half, I didn’t) see. At the turn of the last page I was left with two tales of one marriage, both true, both honest, both beautiful, but ultimately incompatible.
Being granted the permission to glimpse into a marriage is like looking into a warped mirror, familiar and strange in the same moment. There is something holy and sacred about mundane married life: tangled sheets, morning coffees, habits, rituals, routines. And Lotto and Matilde have just that, yet there is a darkness that pervades the domestic bliss.
At the core of Fates and Furies, as Lotto’s narrative comes to a close and Matilde’s begins, Lauren Groff unsettlingly presents the “Paradox of marriage: you can never know someone entirely; you do know someone entirely”. After finishing Fates and Furies I looked over at my sleeping husband – that familiar profile, with his dusty eyelashes, and deep sleep breathing (a song I will never forget the words to), and in a moment of slight heartbreak, realized that I will never truly know him.
But unlike Lotto and Matilde, whose lives were held together by wilful ignorance and the “untruths of silences”, my longing to know him is endless. And although I know it is futile, I hope that in the book of our lives, the two sides of our story mirror one another, and that the Fates and the Furies will find no place in our home or in our hearts.